It seems a life time ago when Arsenal lost the Europa League final and finished a disappointing fifth in the league. At the end of the season most of us agreed that:
- We were short of a quality winger. Iwobi was making progress but not enough to claim a wing position; Auba was not really suitable for wing-play but nevertheless did a decent job when asked to play there. Mkhi and Ozil were not really suitable for wing play either.
- Kola fits into a 3-4-3 well enough but not so much in a back-four, and Nacho was struggling to keep producing the fine form of previous season game in game out.
- Our defending was poor and we lacked a strong CB pairing.
- Furthermore, our defending as a team was below par and this had to do with the balance of the team and tactics.
- Our midfield lacked identity and consistency. Emery struggled to get the balance right between supporting our defence and aiding our attack throughout the season.
Two and a half months later, the club has bought and sold players and these are my initial eight conclusions:
- All the gaps left by departing players, whether it’s Koz or Rambo etc, have been more than adequately filled, but the loss of our very own Iwobi is painful from an emotional point of view. We’ve got good money for him and it remained to be see whether he would break through soon for us, but it was great to see him grow and become a man and I liked his enthusiasm and pride for the shirt… He will be missed!
- With Pepe we have added a winger of great quality, promise and fab stats for Lille in France. The Ivory Coast superstar is not just a good winger but also suitable for playing as CF. This is exactly the sort of player we needed to add and so well done Emery and co. It was also an important statement by the club and took not just Gooners by surprise!
- With Tierney we have a copy of Bellerin on the other flank. Once Vector Hector and Tierney are fully fit to play, the team will literally and figuratively get wings, and evenly so: this will give us both thrust and balance and it will make a real difference.
- With the arrival of Martinelli and possible inclusion in the squad of Nelson and Saka this season, Arsenal have added more attacking energy and penetration to the team. Yes these boys are young and likely not to score and assist a lot initially, but they will learn from the experienced ‘PALs’ and may grow a lot this season.
- The important thing to see here as well is that Arsenal are not just investing in the coming season but are also safeguarding the future: Martinelli, Pepe, Tierney and Saliba should all be first team players well into the next decade, all going well.
- Saliba looks like a player who will be claiming a first team CB spot when he finally comes to Arsenal. Holding is another player who is likely to become first choice CB this, or at least next, season. Sok and Chambers are also close to first team football but especially the latter may only be good enough for back-up/the cup games. With Koz’s self-forced departure, Arsenal needed a CB with leadership skills, PL and CL experience and just for a couple of years… The signing of Luiz, therefore, makes perfect sense: quality CBs are hard to find and they all demand to play… Emery can pick his strongest CB pairing this season from: Holding, Luiz, Chambers, Mustafi and Sokratis. We should be okay.
- Ceballos is highly rated in Europe and Willock is looking ready to play in the first team. The modern game does not require a full-blooded DM anymore, however much we would like to have one. We need balance in midfield through multi-skilled midfielders and with the addition of Ceballos and Willock to the squad, Emery can pick the right pair for different kind of games – depending on strength of the opponent and whether we play them home or away. I expect our core pairing to be Xhaka and Torreira: for top-five encounters and many away games. If we are looking at a more typical box to box player next to Xhaka or Torreira, either Ceballos or Willock, or maybe even AMN or Guendouzi, may just make the difference. The combo of Torreira and Willock may suit us best when we are pushing the opponent high into their own half and we need quick, mobile and aggressive midfield players for if and when we need to avoid a turnover. This combo, or one of them with Ceballos, could also work well against teams like Pool and Citeh as they often succeed in pushing us right back into our own half.
- I wrote in previous posts that Mesut will play more midfield-to-box this season (supporting the two more deep midfielders continuously). He cannot do this game in game out for ninety minutes, so we need back up. And that man is most likely to be Ceballos, who is quite similar to Mesut it seems (need to see more of him of course). I have also high hopes for Smith-Rowe in this position. The key thing is Emery has much more midfield options to get the balance right this season – and I have not even spoken about the possibility of playing the likes of Chambers, Mustafi or Luiz in midfield if we wanted to add a bit more DM bite to it.
So consider me very excited about the possibilities of this squad and potential for the future. It is now up to Unai to work his magic with it and time will tell whether he will be successful.